A Trio of Weekend Getaways

Anyone who knows me knows travel is one of my greatest passions. And over the last month, I set a personal travel record–three back to back weekend getaways. Each one afforded the opportunity to reconnect with beloved friends and family for milestone occasions.

First, I headed to Mount Holyoke for my 20-year college reunion. A happy wave of nostalgia and pride in my alma mater infused my return to campus. There is something magical about being part of this sisterhood of uncommon women. That feeling was deeply present as we participated in the laurel parade, a longstanding MHC tradition in which reunion classes are followed by the graduating seniors. The seniors then weave a laurel chain around MHC founder Mary Lyon’s grave before singing the moving anthem “Bread and Roses.”

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Snapshots from my 20 year reunion: MHC women rock.

At reunion, I had the pleasure of catching up with dear friends Traci and Dana, reuniting with dorm neighbor Cristina and seeing first year floormate Aimee. Two decades fell away as Aimee and I talked about how our lives have unfolded since graduation. Amazing.

Getaway #2 took me to Toronto, for a girls weekend with dear friends Jackie and Belgium-based Cindy.

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Girls weekend fun: (from left) Cindy, me and Jackie

Taking advantage of picture perfect weather, we explored some top attractions in my former hometown: the CN Tower, Toronto Island and historic public buildings offering complimentary admission as part of Doors Open. Along the way, of course, we enjoyed wonderful conversations about life, love and the importance of good friends in navigating the trials and triumphs of life.

Last weekend, my beloved cousin Alexandra and I headed to Jersey City to celebrate her college graduation. Our home for the weekend – the fantastic Westin hotel. I  won the stay here during a regional Starwood employee event and it was just as rejuvenating as I anticipated. We were welcomed with a suite upgrade and wine and cake pops.

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All smiles: Alexandra and me

After spending hours chatting the night away, Alexandra and I headed across the street to Battello, a lively, sprawling bistro along the water with spectacular skyline views. Alexa is more like a sister than a cousin to me and I treasure the bond we share.

All of weekend getaways nourished my spirit and gave me much-needed quality time with some of my nearest and dearest. Traveling so much in a short span of time also reinforced that old and ever so true adage – there’s no place like home.

Cruising Around NYC With CitySights

One of my favorite things to do is play tourist in my hometown. I recently got to do just that, thanks to an invitation from Citysights NY to try one of their sightseeing cruises.

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Even with overcast skies, NYC’s skyline never disappoints

Though the weather wasn’t ideal (overcast and chilly), the trip more than made up for it.

BFF Sara joined me for the 90-minute twilight cruise, which covers every borough except one (the Bronx) — and offers fascinating insights into the past, present and future of NYC.

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NYC’s majestic Brooklyn Bridge

Our tour guide Michael, who proudly informed us he hasn’t missed a boat ride in 15 years, was one of the best I’ve ever experienced. An engaging combination of Manhattan moxie and salt of the earth charm, Michael couldn’t be a better ambassador for this great city.

As we approached the Statue of Liberty in the distance, he encouraged passengers not to stand up right away.

“We’re going to get close enough to her that you can ask for her number if your wife will let you,” he quipped, adding. “It’s we the people, not me the people.”

All smiles in front of Lady Liberty

He regaled us with historical facts, pop culture trivia and poignant reflections on such defining moments as the first immigrants to come through Ellis Island and 9/11.

When we thanked Michael upon disembarking, I informed him we were locals and had a great time.

“Praise from Caesar!” he said without missing a beat.

Well deserved.

Whether you’re a native New Yorker or just visiting, a Citysights NY cruise is a great way to see the city. For tickets and more info, click here.

Two Memorable Nights With Members of My Tribe

One of the great delights of living in NYC is experiencing something new right in your neighborhood. I enjoyed exactly that during a recent girls night out with my dear friend Crystal.

We met up at Jones Wood Foundry, a gastropub that made me nostalgic for my other favorite city, London. The cozy venue has British knickknacks on the walls (i.e. signs from the London underground) and affable staff — including a great bartender with that charming UK accent.

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All smiles in Central Park

After drinks, a delicious cheese plate and dinner, Crystal and I headed over to Central Park, just in time to catch the sunset. We walked around for awhile, savoring the beautiful spring weather and our good fortune to live in a city with such a horticultural jewel.

Gratitude was also part of the conversation when I caught up this week with gal pal Carla at Latin-Asian fusion eatery Zengo in Midtown.

A supermom of four who juggles family and work and always looks fabulously stylish, Carla is an inspiration in addition to being a good friend.

Over sangria, shared dumplings and dessert, we talked about work, recent travels and the importance of friends. Carla mentioned a blog post that talks about how an amazing woman we both knew who recently died unexpectedly cultivated a tribe of wonderful friends.

As she said that, I thought about my own tribe, of which Carla and Crystal are cherished members. My tribe of friends have seen me through so many trials and triumphs. They are, to paraphrase one of my favorite sayings, the family I have chosen for myself.

I couldn’t have chosen any better.

An Evening In Times Square

When it comes to Times Square, I’m one of those rare New Yorkers who actually likes it. Between working in the Crossroads of the World and being a Broadway aficionado, I appreciate it as an apex of hustle and bustle — and great dining if you know where to go.

During a recent girls night out with my work BFF Lisa, we headed to two of my favorite Times Square spots. First stop —The Lambs Club, a cozy bar and restaurant at the Chatwal Hotel that is equal parts swanky and boutique-style charm.

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The Lambs Club’s upstairs bar. Love the NYC-themed light fixtures! (photo courtesy: Facebook.com/TheLambsClub)

Over cocktails and a tasty plate of hot mixed nuts, we talked about old friends, new beginnings and taking chances. Then, it was off to Café Un Deux Trois, a delightful French bistro that never disappoints. I departed from my usual picks here, enjoying the pâté starter and a perfectly cooked salmon burger.

It was a short stroll from dinner to the Sondheim Theater for Beautiful: the Carole King musical. Beautiful is a richly entertaining journey through King’s life and work. Packed with 25 pop hits like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “So Far Away” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” it’s also a fascinating look at the stories behind these classic songs, soulfully performed by the cast. Catch Beautiful before it closes in September.

A Trio Of Must-See Shows

One of my favorite parts of living in the Big Apple is having access to amazing theater. This weekend, I had the pleasure and good fortune of enjoying this cherished form of entertainment not once, but three times.

Friday’s Broadway experience took place at The Westin New York At Times Square, a first class hotel that makes every workday I spend there a thoroughly delightful and exciting one.

All smiles with my colleagues Ali (center) and Chris

Through Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) partner Audience Rewards, the Westin has teamed up with the beloved blockbuster musical WICKED for a two-month activation featuring exclusive packages and a lobby display of show costumes and memorabilia. Friday afternoon, we welcomed cast members to perform three songs from the show.

#WICKEDAtWestin: Wonderful!

As I stood there newly smitten with this beloved musical (which I saw in London years ago), I felt blessed all over again to have a job that makes such incredible moments possible. And to work with such a smart, fun and dedicated group of people.

The fun continued on Saturday, with a matinee preview performance of Something Rotten. Set during the 1590s, Something Rotten is the infectious tale of two writers desperate to create a hit play as Shakespeare continues to steal the limelight. When a fortune teller suggests they create the first-ever musical, hilarity ensues. Something Rotten playfully pokes fun at musicals while also showcasing what makes them so irresistible when they’re done so well.

After the show and cocktails/appetizers at Sardi’s, I met up with my cousin Carla and Titi Lydia for part two of my Saturday double header — the Radio City Spring Spectacular.

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Derek Hough and Laura Benanti are magical together (photo courtesy: Gannett-cdn.com)

The dazzling 90 minute production is a love letter to NYC. Starring Tony Award winner Laura Benanti of TV’S Nashville and Dancing With The Stars‘ Derek Hough, it takes you on a journey through NYC’s iconic places, with majestic staging and beautiful choreography featuring the Rockettes.

My face almost hurt from smiling so much — that’s how much I loved the Spring Spectacular and Something Rotten. Both are must see entertainment now that spring is slowly, finally arriving!

Girls Night Out In Long Island

Last night, I headed to Long Island for a night out with gal pals Tasha, Mimma and Theresa.

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Mimma, me and Tasha

Tasha was visiting from LA, so this was a special reunion, made even more fun by the presence of Theresa’s hubby, siblings and friends who know and love Tasha too.

We piled in to the Rockville Centre location of Croxley Ales Great American Ale House, a lively bar with a great crowd. Over drinks and apps (mozzarella sticks, wings, chicken fingers–classic bar food, yum), we caught up on each other’s lives and shared a lot of laughs. Among the topics of conversation: Beverly Hills 90210 versus Melrose Place, precocious children (Tasha, Theresa and Mimma are all moms) and dating dramas created by texting. We also reminisced about Theresa’s awesome bridal shower awhile back.

As we talked, I found myself feeling so thankful that our mutual dear friend Caroline introduced us years ago. Tash, Mimma and Theresa are amazing women – smart, fun, kind and sassy.

With spring finally upon us, they mentioned the possibility of visiting some of Long Island’s many wineries. Looking forward to that and many more fun times with these great ladies!

Catching Up With A Cleveland Friend

Yesterday, I headed over to Bed, Bath and Beyond, where I had the pleasure of catching up with my Cleveland-based friend Ryan.

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Ryan and me

Ryan was in town sampling his delicious Inca Tea. Ryan and two of his college friends were inspired to create Inca Tea after hiking a 16,000 foot Peruvian mountain trail. During their journey, they learned about an ancient Incan tea recipe including antioxidant rich purple corn.

As a longtime tea lover, I love that all Inca Teas are non-GMO and made with 100% natural ingredients. Each individual tea bag is also twice the size of what you get from other brands. Inca Tea currently offer four varieties–black, mango, peach and my personal favorite, the top selling spiced berry. New flavors coconut ginger and chamomile will debut next month.

Ryan’s visit to sample Inca Teas in NYC and New Jersey coincided with a significant anniversary — five years to the day since my Great Dating Blitz.

Ryan was one of several fun, friendly singles I met in Cleveland, the first stop on my eight-week, eight city adventure. As we reminisced and caught up about life, work and dating, I couldn’t help thinking about how much I’ve grown because of everything I experienced during that eventful trip.

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Cleveland rocks: (from left) Locals Diana, Ryan and Kim showed me a great time during my Great Dating Blitz visit (March 2010).

I’ve written and spoken a lot about what I learned of both the similarities and differences of dating in each city on my itinerary. And I’ve shared often one of the major takeaways from the trip — that the best thing about being single in New York is also the worst: there’s no pressure to settle down. But the greatest epiphany I had is one which has taken me all of these years to fully act on.

After my first dating blitz ended (a European sequel followed a few months later), I realized that a pair of ghosts — my deceased parents and first love Mark — were holding me back. I was so stuck on mourning those losses that I had little emotional bandwidth to move forward. I was also living in the past (literally) in a home defined by furniture, art and knickknacks inherited from Mom and Dad.

Now, at long last, I am completing what I started five years ago. I am embracing the present, buoyed by a decluttered mind and heart and newly redecorated home. I am appreciating exactly where I am in life, mindful that it’s different from where I expected to be but no less wonderful because of it.

A few days ago, I came across this quote–

“The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come.”

Amen.

A Fun-Filled Florida Getaway

For as much as I love NYC, sometimes you just need a break from it, especially during a winter as frigid as this one. So I was especially excited to spend President’s Day weekend down South in Jacksonville, visiting my Titi Eneida and cousins Monica and Steven. Joining in the festivities — NY-based cousins Dana and Carla.

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Family Reunion: (from left) Titi Eneida, Dana, Monica and hubby Michael, Carla and me in St. Augustine

Our Florida getaway was perfect from start to finish. Saturday, we drove down to St. Augustine. This charming, historic town (the oldest in the US) never fails to delight with its cobblestone streets lined with quaint shops and Spanish style architecture.

After strolling around and browsing in a few stores, we went to A1A Ale Works for a delightful lunch on the balcony (lobster and shrimp tacos, mmmm). But the weekend’s most memorable, delicious meal happened later at Titi Eneida’s house.

Titi prepared a Valentine’s feast, with a festively decorated table, homemade spinach salad, pizza with sausage and peppers, chocolate cupcakes and chocolate covered strawberries.

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Best Valentine’s Day meal ever!

Sunday, we drove to St. John’s Town Center, a beautiful outdoor mall with 150 stores, where I finally found two major items for my home makeover (details to come!) and savored the sunshine in a cozy seating area outside Nordstrom’s.

Later, after a brief visit to Jax Beach, we went back to Monica and hubby Michael’s place for a laughter filled night watching Saturday Night Live ‘ s epic 40th anniversary special.

I am so happy this family reunion coincided with Valentine’s Day. It reminded how blessed I am to have so much love in my life, and be related to so many wonderful people. And really, that’s what February 14th is truly about: cherishing every kind of love — regardless of your relationship status.

A Wonderful Weekend

For as much as I adore my city and country, there’s another part of the world that has a big piece of my heart – Australia. This weekend, I was reminded of why thanks to a visit from my Aussie friend Dave.

It had been more than 12 years since I last saw Dave, when I stayed with him during a fun-filled visit to Perth in Western Australia.

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My last night in Perth back in ’02: Dave (far right) and me with his friends (from left) Adrian, Michelle and Jason.

The quintessential example of Aussie hospitality, Dave hosted me though our only connection was my best Aussie mate Sue being the wife of his buddy Chris. The trip ended up being one of the highlights of my five month stint as an Australian resident, due in no small part to Dave setting me up with a very charming friend of his.

So when Dave recently sent me a Facebook message that work would be bringing him this way, I was more than delighted to reciprocate his generosity in opening up his home to me – and show him some of my favorite NYC hotspots.

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Dave and me at O’Flanagan’s

Friday night, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at El Porron on the UES, sharing tapas (flank steak empanadas, grilled squid) dessert (vanilla flan) and conversation about family, work and the appreciation of time that comes with getting older. Then, it was off to Irish dive bar O’Flanagan’s for after dinner drinks and the smooth grooves of cover band East Coast. An aspiring Texas-born comedian and his girlfriend added to the fun, as did having the chance to hit the dance floor a few times.

Yesterday, we stopped at Stumptown Coffee in the Ace Hotel before heading over to Barbounia, an equal parts cozy and trendy Greek restaurant in Gramercy, then on to the W Union Square’s lobby bar.

Our last stop of the night was Lillie’s Victorian, a venue rich with the décor that inspires its name and packed with twenty and thirtysomethings. Dave and I were there to celebrate my dear friend Lauren’s birthday, which we did with a lot of laughs and musings about the joys of binge watching (having recently signed up for Netflix at last, it’s something I am attempting to resist).

Catching up with Dave brought back many fond memories of my time Down Under. And made me look forward to the day when, hopefully, I pay the land of Oz another visit!

A Birthday To Remember

When it comes to birthdays, I usually agree with what Oprah says about celebrating them — rock it out. After the fanfare with which I greeted turning 40 last year, though, I enjoyed a quieter but equally festive celebration for my 41st, while being reminded of just how fortunate I truly am.

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Celebrating with my pals Crystal (left) and Sara

Last Saturday, longtime dear friends Sara and Crystal joined me for dinner at Sushi Samba in the West Village. This lively fusion restaurant never fails to disappoint, with its festive vibe and fun menu. In addition to rock shrimp and mouthwatering sushi rolls, we indulged in a decadent dessert duo — chocolate banana cake and s’mores pops.

We talked a lot about new beginnings happening for each of us at the moment. 2015 definitely feels like a year that will continue the fresh start I embarked on in 2014, from my home makeover to taking on a third hotel at work, the fantastic Westin New York At Times Square. The blessing of truly loving what I do is one that I never, ever take for granted.

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My Westin Times Square colleagues surprised me with this delicious tiramisu cake!

Speaking of blessings, my birthday was jam packed with them.

Wednesday began with receiving two beautiful bouquets of flowers, 11 text messages and a flurry of birthday greetings on Facebook. Old friends, new friends and even a few old flames took a moment to wish me a Happy Birthday. After treating myself to a huge vanilla cupcake at Crumbs and my annual spa massage at Bliss 49, I enjoyed dinner at Luna Piena, a longtime favorite Italian restaurant, with my beloved cousin and best friend, Alexandra.

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Alexandra and me

Celebrating with my nearest and dearest, moments of pampering and feeling truly loved — as far as birthdays go, 41 couldn’t have been any more perfect!

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